The Right Way to Handle Children Who Bite

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Most parents are usually shocked the first time they get bitten. Not only was it unexpected, but now that our little ones have found other ways to use their pearly whites, what are we going to do about it?  Should we be upset and berate them for their bad behaviour, or should we let them be? Although children do outgrow this as they grow older, biting is common, and it is something that we need to correct from the start. But before we break down some age-appropriate ways to deal with the situation, parents need to understand why children bite in the first place.

Why bite?

There are a number of reasons why children bite. For babies and toddlers, it could be because they are teething or learning to explore things with their mouth. Other times, it could be a lack of language skills to communicate. Or it could even be something as simple as they just want to get your attention.

A couple of possible reason why your child might be biting include:

  • Relieving sore and itchy gums from teething.
  • Learning cause and effect and what it feels like to bite into something.
  • The usual oral-motor stimulation.
  • He or she could be Imitating other children and adults.
  • He or she likes the feeling of an upper hand and being in control.
  • Self-defence.
  • He or she is trying to communicate complicated feelings or needs like hunger, fatigue, frustration, anger, confusion, or fear.

What can you do to help?

First of all, you need to start with a realistic set of expectations for your child’s behaviour based on their age, current skills and abilities. Needless to say, you wouldn’t deal with a baby biting the same way you would a toddler or a preschooler. Here are some things you can do to reduce the triggers.

  1. Try to maintain your child’s routine and keep them as predictable and consistent as you can. Younger children thrive on routines and prefer to know what to expect.
  2. If you think overstimulated during the day, then try incorporating some downtime activities that are calming to help your child to relax. Squishies, playdough, soft music, or even reading a short storybook are all great ideas.
  3. If it is teething that is causing your child to bite, provide them with items that can help alleviate the discomfort. Now would be a good time to chill those teething rings, clean washcloth or offer fruits in a  squeeze/mesh feeder. At least, they can continue to bite safely without hurting anyone.
  4. Lastly, lead by example with gentle reminders, guidance and speech. Not only will this help your child to calm down, but it will also encourage your child to develop self-control.

How should I respond?

There are different ways to respond, depending on your child’s age, and parents also need to consider that situations could vary. Hence there are no fast rules, and parents will have to play by ear to see what works for them. 

Infants

At this stage, most infants are learning to explore the world by using all of their senses. This includes using their mouths to learn new textures and tastes. If they do bite, it isn’t because they are intentionally trying to cause harm. Still, it is a good place to start teaching your child what they should and shouldn’t bite.

So if your baby decides to perform an experimental nip while breastfeeding or suddenly bites whoever is carrying them, the first step is to remain calm even if you’re anything but that. Then in a firm and steady voice, tell them “no” or “no biting!” so that they know it is not okay.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

As your infant progresses to toddlerhood and later to a preschooler, he or she would start to develop stronger emotions. Some may take longer to manage or understand these emotions, resulting in them biting to express anger or frustration. Most preschoolers have no problem expressing themselves better, so if they start to bite, some underlying issues could be triggering this behaviour. 

To address this, the moment you catch your child biting, kneel or squat down to his or her eye level. Explain with a firm tone that this is wrong and that he or she shouldn’t go around biting people because it hurts. You will also need to respond to the child or person who was bitten by apologising, comforting and offering any first aid if necessary. 

Rediscuss the incident with your child to determine what happened that led to him or her biting. By doing this, they will understand their emotions better and why they acted out the way they did.  Remind them again that biting is not allowed and discuss other ways in which your child can respond in similar situations in the future.

What you should avoid doing

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Despite our Asian ways of disciplining, we should always avoid shaming the child. Never bite a child back to show him or her how it feels to be bitten. As harmless as you think that might be, it sends a message that one can always retaliate with violence to solve the problem.

  • Do not give too much attention to your child after a recent biting incident. This is usually negative attention, and the last thing you need to is to give your child another trump card to act up again.
  • Do not force another child who just got bitten to continue playing together as if nothing happened.
  • Severe punishments will not help children to learn discipline and self-control. Instead, it will only upset them and cause them to be defiant and embarrassed. It will also undermine the relationship between you and your child.

What if biting is becoming a habit?

You might need reinforcements if biting is becoming a habit. This includes working together with teachers and other immediate family members so that you can continue to address the behaviour consistently at home and in school. Be persistent but be patient. Habits take time to change for the better, so be prepared for the long run.

Pay attention to any signals, and be ready to step in if you catch your child who is about to bite. Teach them acceptable ways to express strong feelings and empower them to communicate their wants and needs.

Most important of all is to remind yourself to maintain age-appropriate expectations that are relevant to your child. Expecting your child to do more than they arere than they are able will only cause more stress and trigger more biting.

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